The Naked Truth About "Naked PCs"

The term naked PC is used by Microsoft Corporation to refer to a personal computer that is sold without any operating system preinstalled on the hard disk drive (HDD).

Misleading Terminology

The term was coined for its dramatic value and as a means for creating the impression that it is evil to sell computers without operating systems because they might be used for so-called software piracy (i.e., copying or using software in violation of its license). This is due to the fact that the word naked implies both that something is missing and that it is an inappropriate or immoral condition.

The real reason that both of these colorful terms were devised was as an attempt to protect and expand monopoly profits -- not to make computers (and confusing computer terminology) more logical and understandable for ordinary people (e.g., software piracy has nothing to do with real pirates). A monopoly is a company that supplies a product (i.e., a good or service) for which there are no close substitutes or for which it has a dominant market share; monopoly almost invariably results in higher prices and inferior quality.

It is doubtful whether the term naked PC, at least as commonly used, is really a necessary or useful addition to the English language. But if it is to be used, it would be more descriptive as a reference to a personal computer without its case on rather than a computer without an operating system. That is, the meaning should be analogous to the term naked light bulb, which refers to a light bulb in a lamp without a shade or other covering over it1.

And if it is truly important or useful to have a special term to indicate a personal computer without an operating system installed, better choices might be uninstalled PC or clean PC2. Moreover, if Microsoft insists that some analogy be made to people without clothes on, then perhaps the best choice would be nude PC, as the word nude has less of a connotation of something inappropriate or immoral than does the word naked -- as there is certainly nothing inappropriate or immoral about computers without operating systems on them.

The Real Naked PCs

Although the term naked PC is currently used only as a ploy for boosting monopoly profits and is not helpful in making computers more useful or comprehensible for ordinary people, there is another, and much more serious, sense in which most personal computers can truly be considered to be naked.

It is the fact that confidential data on them is often exposed to the prying eyes of evil people around the world. This situation exists because of the poor, or virtually non-existent, security that results from the poor design and sloppy coding of some of the most commonly used commercial operating systems and application programs. Moreover, if the widely suspected practice of deliberately building backdoors (i.e., hidden entry points) into commercial operating systems is indeed a reality, then it is another cause of such nudeness. This is the real shame and immorality of the computer industry.

Reasons to Require "Naked PCs"

From the viewpoint of benefiting individual consumers as well as the economy as a whole, computer vendors should actually be encouraged, or perhaps even required, to provide their customers with the option of purchasing computers without operating systems preinstalled as well as with a choice of any of several operating systems preinstalled3. Moreover, these alternatives should be accompanied by a clear comparison of prices and benefits. The advantages include:

(1) Creating more choice for consumers. It is widely believed that more choice can be a good thing, and there is no reason to think that computer operating systems are an exception.

(2) Helping promote fair competition among operating systems. Competition is usually beneficial (a fact that economists and others have been keenly aware of for well over a century), as it promotes lower prices, improved quality and innovation.

(3) Eliminating the so-called Microsoft tax, which is the portion of the price of a new computer that consumers are forced to pay for the preinstalled copy of Microsoft Windows even if they do not want it and intend to use some other operating system.

(4) Helping educate consumers about the fact that choice exists with regard to operating systems and that the best operating systems are usually available for free or at nominal cost. This is because a large percentage of the population is still only vaguely, if at all, aware of the fact that alternative operating systems exist.

(5) Helping consumers learn that operating systems are now extremely simple to install, even for people with virtually no computer expertise. This would make it easy for consumers to compare various operating systems and make rational decisions based on performance and price. It would also encourage them to attain the benefits of installing multiple operating systems on the same computer.

(6) Benefiting aggressive sellers of computer hardware by making it much easier for them to sell computers at substantially lower prices that perform just as well as (if not better than) computers that have expensive proprietary (i.e., commercial) operating systems preinstalled.

(7) Promoting a healthy diversity of the operating system ecosystem in order to reduce the vulnerability of the Internet as a whole to attacks from malware (e.g., viruses, worms and trojans).

(8) Helping countries to develop vibrant and internationally competitive software industries. This is because it would facilitate the use of software over which users can have greater control and thereby facilitate experimentation and promote education with regard to how software really works rather than just about how to use application programs.

(9) Helping Microsoft slow down an accelerating erosion of its market share and thereby improve its long-term outlook. This is because it would put pressure on the company to develop an operating system (a) that no longer makes user data naked to the world and (b) that potential users are truly excited about and want to buy for its own merits rather than because they have little choice. The development of such an operating system should not be insurmountable once a genuine commitment has been made, as has been clearly demonstrated by the fact Apple Computer was able to develop its highly popular Mac OS X despite being a much smaller company than Microsoft.

1Many usability experts suggest that when a new term is created, it should be designed so that its meaning is immediately as clear as possible even to people who are unfamiliar with the concept that it represents. This can help make an already very complicated field somewhat easier for newcomers and outsiders to understand. Thus, it is certainly a step in the wrong direction to create and use terms such as naked PC or software piracy that have been deliberately designed in some Orwellian sense to confuse and mislead people.

2Indeed, clean PC could be the most appropriate term because the HDD has not yet been contaminated by any of the bugs (i.e., errors in programs), viruses, spyware or other malware that plagues the Microsoft Windows operating systems.

3These choices should include not only various versions of the latest Microsoft Windows operating system but also free operating systems, including popular versions of Linux (e.g., Fedora, SuSE, Mandriva and Ubuntu), the various BSDs (FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD) and FreeDOS. Although the BSDs are not yet as user-friendly as might be desired, they can be ideal for organizations for which security is a particularly high priority.

Created May 17, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.